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I remember having a conversation one day with a friend i was "educating" in Asian cinema, and giving him a few films, including Hong-Kong, Macau, Mainland and Taiwan. He laughed at the fact that i was making a distinction for something that to him was just "Chinese" films. However, each of those "Chinese" regions have a distinct coloration that permeates their film industry. In the span of a few months, i have seen five really outstanding Taiwanese films. I must admit i have a weakness for films coming from Taiwan: they have a very artsy European feel in terms of the subject matters they touch, their slower pace, and their more contemplative nature. In that respect, they break away from the rest of Asia, although independent South Korean fares come close.
So here, i am going to cover those 5 films briefly: Prince Of Tears, How Are You Dad?, Hear Me, Tears, and Yang Yang. They are all from 2009, a prolific year for Taiwan, and cover epic historical landscapes, intimate personal relationships, quirky romances, and destructive obsessions.
Yang Yang (2009) is prototypical small-scale Taiwanese film, and, talking about French cinema earlier, makes that connection very palatable. Yang Yang, the titular character is a young aspiring actress of mixed origins. From a French father she never met and a Chinese mother, she exerts a fascination for the crowd of independent filmmakers she encounters. Although she doesn't speak a word of French, the roles she keeps on being proposed are for obscure semi-pompous independent films that cast her as a tortuous French woman. The film follows her daily life, her ups and downs, her friends and foes, and the crazy directors she encounters, all the while her mother is finally about to get remarried with a man who is an accomplished coach, with an accomplished track athlete as a daughter.
This is a subdued film, with long pauses of contemplative cinematography around its characters, with little or no dialogue. The camera lingers around and captures what's going on with a natural grace. The acting is very realistic and Sandrine Pinna in the main role is simply fantastic in portraying the vulnerability of the character, caught up in her dream to act in spite of the psychological abuse she undergoes under tyrannical and sometimes incompetent directors and staff. Her performance is really the backbone of this film.
On the minus side, the film is at times pretty chaotic, often going into subplots that lead to nowhere, or editing that seems just plain strange. But maybe those are part of the charms of such a film, that is completely artsy-feely. If those bore you, don't even bother here. The Taiwanese style of film making will simply exacerbate everything you dislike about the genre.
This is a film about films, taking you across the land of Taiwanese independent filmmaking, which, unsurprisingly, is no different from anywhere else in many ways. The same issues about money, schedules, and incompetent bums who think they are hot shit, abound in Yang Yang's daily life. Her rare trait makes her attractive for the industry, and one hopes it will bring her a big break one day in spite of her own issues that seem to always get in the way.
- Laurent Hasson